Richard Halsey and Scott Conrad at the 1977 Academy Awards. The two colleagues won Oscars for editing “Rocky”.
“Editing is the final rewrite,” said Oscar winning editor Scott Conrad when he sat down with us for episode #2 of The Road to Cinema Podcast. He explained how important it is for an editor to be as objective as possible when starting the editing process. Conrad reads the script before production and then blocks it out of his mind when he begins to cut scenes, ”I don’t want to be locked in by what the script says.”
Conrad’s original goal was not to be in the cutting room but instead to be on the stage. He spent his high school years performing in plays opposite classmate Mia Farrow. After graduation, he auditioned for roles on television shows. He even became the top contender for the male lead on “Peyton Place” which eventually went to Ryan O’Neal. Conrad took an entry level position in the 20th Century Fox mailroom. It was here that he found his home in the editing department. He observed some of the greatest editors at the studio. One of which was Robert L. Simpson who cut such films as: “Miracle on 34th Street”, “South Pacific”, and director John Ford’s “The Grapes of Wrath”. Conrad’s newly found passion for editing led him back to the classroom where he earned a degree in cinematic arts from USC.
Scott Conrad’s first break as a full-fledged editor was on a unique behind the scenes documentary of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” which is currently featured on the DVD and Blu-Ray. The film is a unique immersive experience that takes the viewer inside the production along with the director George Roy Hill and the film’s leading men Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The documentary would go on to air multiple times on network television and win an Emmy award.
Conrad would soon edit one of the greatest sports films in cinema history which would win Oscars for “Best Picture”, “Best Director”, and “Best Editing” — “Rocky”.
Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed face off in the climactic boxing match in “Rocky” released in 1976.
Directed by John G. Avildsen. Written by Sylvester Stallone.
Listening to our interview, you will hear Conrad explain the importance of an editor looking at every frame of film before beginning the editing process. For the climactic fight between Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed, Conrad looked at over 84,000 feet of film before making a cut. 84,000 feet of film amounts to approximately 14 hours of footage. He explained to us the overwhelming nature of that fight footage which he looked at in its entirety at least three times. This was 1976, way before the advent of Avid software and computerized editing systems. Editing was not only a physical process but a labor intensive process. When an editor had to make a cut, it was an actual physical cut into a print of the film. The film was then spliced and taped together. To make a change, an editor would have to pull everything apart and start from scratch. That’s why Conrad’s process of editing the “Rocky” fight sequence was thoughtful and deliberately planned out.
Take a look at a clip from the climactic “Rocky” boxing match. The reason why this is one the best boxing scenes in cinema history is because editor Scott Conrad looked at every frame of footage before ever making a cut into the celluloid. Once again, that footage amounts to approximately 14 hours.
A clip from the climactic Rocky Balboa/Apollo Creed fight in “Rocky” edited by Oscar winner Scott Conrad.
Our interview with Oscar winning editor Scott Conrad is loaded with lessons that are not only helpful to understand editing as a craft but are essential staples of the filmmaking process. Script, sound, music, the approach for editing comedies and thrillers, and even the unique situation of editing a film where the lead actor dies during the middle of production. All of those topics and more are featured in Episode #2 of The Road to Cinema Podcast.
Click here to listen!